There seems to be a common consensus that Marvel is winning the live action comics war against their rivals at DC. On a gut level, that may feel correct. The movies and TV series produced by Marvel Studios tend to generate more than a billion dollars a year at the box office. This year, Marvel already earned over $1.1 billion in worldwide box office sales, according to Box Office Mojo, and that’s just with Captain America: Civil War alone. While their upcoming Doctor Strange probably won’t break the billion-dollar mark, it’s certainly possible that Marvel will, at the very least, push the company towards the $2 billion threshold, if not allow them to cross it.
DC, meanwhile, has yet to have a single movie enter the three-commas club. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice earned $873 million worldwide while its follow up, Suicide Squad, earned $745 million. Between the comparatively poor box office receipts and critical maligning of 2016’s DC tent poles, it’s not hard to make the conclusion that DC is lagging behind Marvel. What none of these numbers account for, however, is TV. When you factor those numbers in, the winner is a little less clear.
Warner Brothers chairman Jeff Bewkes revealed some numbers for the DCEU’s TV offerings at an investment conference today, detailed in a report from THR. In addition to touting the box office achievements of Suicide Squad, which saw the highest August opening ever, Bawkes revealed that DC’s television shows generate over a billion dollars a year for Time Warner, DC’s parent company.
While not as enticing as earning a billion dollars at the box office, that still puts the total DCEU take at well over $2.5 billion across film and TV, which is pretty impressive. With ten series either on the air currently or in production, it’s not hard to see where DC is dominating their rivals on TV. With such a diverse offering of TV shows — which includes Arrow, The Flash, iZombie, and Preacher — everyone is either watching or has watched a DC show at some point.
Marvel, meanwhile, has struggled to find similar success on TV, even with their The Defenders saga on Netflix. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., their one network TV show currently on air, tends to perform decently, but it’s hard to compete with so many shows airing on a variety of networks. In many ways, Marvel seems to have lost ground against their competitors, at least in the world of television.
Part of the DCEU’s TV success, no doubt, stems from the wildly popular Arrowverse on The CW. Here, Greg Berlanti has crafted a universe all its own, which often demands viewers keep up with multiple series in order to see the bigger picture. Though the events of The Flash don’t always affect the events of Arrow, for example, it often does help understanding if you have an idea of what’s going on in each corner of their world. This route isn’t entirely dissimilar from Marvel’s “it’s all connected” approach, and inspires intense loyalty from their fans.
The popularity of the shows in the Arrowverse leaves many fans wondering how they can get TV so right while their movies leave something to be desired. The dour tone of the movies released so far in the DCEU has soured a vast segment of the fanbase, many of whom prefer to cheerier tone of their TV series. And even for fans who don’t like keeping up with the goings on of the Arrowverse, they can still get their DC fix on shows like Supergirl, which takes place in a universe parallel to the Arrowverse, or Gotham, which is its own entirely separate thing.
Given the popularity of DC’s TV shows, however, one does wonder when and if DC will start applying those lessons to their cinematic universe. Fans seem to have spoken in regards to what it is they want from their shared comic book universes, and recent post-reflections seem to indicate that DC is trying to pivot to a less dark and gritty tone for their future cinematic releases. While it remains to be seen if this would have an impact on their cinematic rivalry with the MCU, perhaps we aren’t far off from a day when DC is breaking banks at the box office in addition to TV.
Supergirl airs Mondays at 8pm on The CW, The Flash airs in the same timeslot on Tuesdays, Arrow on Wednesdays, and Legends of Tomorrow on Thursdays. iZombie returns to The CW at the midseason. Gotham airs Mondays at 8pm on Fox. Preacher returns to AMC for its second season in 2017.